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Pontoon is very similar to blackjack in some aspects but completely different in others. For starters, both of the starting cards are dealt face down for everyone involved; meaning that you have no idea what the dealer has until you’ve completely finished betting. Now, you are allowed to look at your cards but you can not see what other players have until the end of the match (unless they bust).
Before we go any further, however, it is necessary for us to point out that there are actually two blackjack variations called Pontoon. The British version (which we are talking about here) is completely different from Pontoon played in Malaysia and Singapore; the latter version is a variation of the game MatchPlay 21 (also known as Spanish 21). For details on the Asian version of Pontoon, check out our Match Play 21 tutorial.
The goal of pontoon is the same as blackjack as well; get as close as possible to 21 without going over. All of the card values are also the same and it is played with a standard, 52 card deck (some casinos use two decks) and it is not shuffled until someone hits blackjack. Speaking of which, a natural blackjack in this game is called a pontoon, and just like in traditional blackjack it beats everything. A pontoon pays 2:1.
A Five Card Trick/ Other Rankings
Here’s where things start to get a whole lot different when compared to blackjack. The second best overall hand is a five card trick, and you do not even need to end up with 21 in order for it to be a winner. If you were dealt 2/6, for example, and the next three cards came out 3/A/4, your hand of 16 would beat any dealer hand except for a pontoon. A five card trick also pays 2:1.
From there, the rankings are just like blackjack; get as close to 21 as possible without going over. There is one slight catch however; you can not stand with a total of 14 or under.
Buy a Card/Twist Variation
Another huge difference between blackjack and pontoon is the actual betting. It starts out the same, but once you have your two cards in hand then you have to decide how to play it from there. Players can twist (which means “take a hit”) just like normal blackjack but you can also opt to buy a card, which means that you’re going to double up your bet and take a hit/twist at the same time. In pontoon, the dealer wins on all ties though, which more than evens out the take a hit advantage.
Now, the big difference between a double down bet and buying a card is that in Pontoon you can continue to take extra cards afterwards. You can also buy a card with any total; it is not limited to 9, 10, or 11. The only limitation is that you can not buy a card after you twist, so the double-down type wager is only offered on your 3rd card.
Since the secondary goal of pontoon is to win the hand with five cards, it changes up the betting strategy a little bit. Let’s say that you start out with a fairly lousy hand like A/2 or 2/4; you should definitely buy a card instead of taking the twist. The reason for that is if your 3rd card is another low/mid-range number, you’re going to take another hit anyway so you might as well be playing towards the 2:1 odds with double the bet. Even if your third card is a king, with A/2 you’d be forced to take a 4th card- which could easily lead to a 5th one.
Honestly, we are not thrilled with this version of blackjack because you’re truly betting in the dark; our staff simply could not get used to losing all ties while not being able to see either of the dealer’s cards before standing. The Asian version of Pontoon or American blackjack is a much more fair bet overall.